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Blubbering Mess

No, the title of this post does not refer to me leaving Germany soon.  Rather, it is the name of an abandoned building in Berlin that, to me, is a representation of the spirit of the city.  Until February 2005 this structure was a swimming and leisure center.  It has since fallen into disrepair - smashed windows, colorful graffiti and abandoned beer bottles litter the property. The pools have long been empty and the lack of electricity make certain corners of the interior a bit too mysterious for me, but despite its raggedy appearance, Blubbering Mess is beautiful.

It exudes creativity.  Every inch is covered with graffiti or art. Since most of the glass has been smashed or broken over the years, walking outside is like walking over a beautiful mosaic (I would definitely suggest closed toe shoes for this particular adventure).  There are few places in this world I could walk into a building to find a girl with blue-green hair, a long gown and a blow up dolphin meant for a pool posing for pictures in a shattered courtyard visible to the street and no one takes excessive notice. It's cool to be weird and that's awesome.

Berlin is a place where beauty and inspiration can be found anywhere and in anything.  This city has become the master of reinvention - it's history demands it.  In the past century Berlin has been governed by four distinct governments or regimes.  It has been divided, it has been unified. It has been bankrupt and plagued with inflation, but it has also evolved into one of the most stable and wealthy economies in Europe.  It cannot ignore or reject its history, but Berliners also refuse to let their history hold them back and instead embrace the alternative way of life and thinking that they have become so well known for.

In Blubbering Mess I see this spirit: a resistance to letting destruction or disrepair categorize something as useless, a desire to make something many may see as ugly into something beautiful and different. It's creative. It's inventive. It's uniquely quirky and entirely Berlin.

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By kaandle

As much as abroad is about traveling to new places and experiencing new, wonderful things, it's important to realize that every place you visit will not be your new favorite destination.  For my programs second week long excursion we traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. I undoubtedly saw impressive architecture, learned of a deep history and experienced a unique environment, but I also reentered winter (it was snowing significantly when we arrived and on several mornings) and ate the same mayonnaise covered foods for a week.  But hey - that's Russia for you.  A word to the wise - borsch and Russian salad are a reality of every meal.  Despite the dietary and meteorological challenges, here are some of the highlights of this educational excursion.

Hermitage Museum

This former palace will be recognizable to any person that watched Anastasia as a child. The exterior is covers it a distinct green plaster and the interior is covered with even more impressive paintings and sculptures. Among the treasures of this collection are two completed Michelangelo's, a Rafael sculpture and a recently destroyed painting that was thought to be lost forever from a vicious stack with acid.  Absolutely worth your time. Even if you don't enjoy art, the walls of the rooms are still ornately decorated from its time as the Winter Palace.

Erarta Museum

For those who enjoy contemporary art, interactive exhibits, or things off the beaten track this is the place to go. It's a bit out of the way but the large exhibit - including five floors of permanent and five floors of temporary exhibitions - is a unique approach to curating a museum as well as introduces you to more Russian artists than Kandinsky.

The Ballet

The Mariinsky Ballet is Russia's second most prestigious company, after the Moscow Ballet. It was a wonderful surprise for me that we were going to a performance while in Russia, especially as a dance major. This is definitely an event worth seeing, not only to experience the Russian style ballet in its native land, but for the beauty and experience of a classic performance art.

By kaandle

This weekend has been refreshingly warm so don't mind my emphasis on lazy outdoor activities where lounging on the grass and soaking in the sun is finally do-able without the addition of a heavy down jacket.

1. Mauerpark

The translation is literally wall-park.  The large grassy area is overlooked by a graffiti-filled wall that stands at the top of a hill.  Every Sunday, rain or shine, regardless of holidays, a large flee market opens and holds everything you could possibly desire.  From bags to jewelry to furniture or bratwurst, you can easily spend your entire day here.  Now that the weather is finally getting warmer, the grass lawn and hill just outside the market come to life on Sunday's as well.  There are large ampiltheaters built into the side of the hill where karaoke takes place with an enthusiastic crowd.  Musicians, artists and singers set up all around, performing mini concerts and competing for audiences.  There is definitely a 90s music festival feel to this place and you'll never leave feeling like you've wasted your Sunday.

2. A Drink by the Spree

The Spree is the river that runs through Berlin and creates a small island filled with impressive buildings - both due to their external architecture and their inner contents. This area is revered to as "Museum Isel".  On the other side of the Spree, overlooking one of the most notable museums, the Bode, a casual and relaxing area for pedestrians has been created. There are a few restaraunts and bars along the back that all put out folding chairs and provide blankets incase the weather turns.  If you don't want to perchase anything there is plenty of green and wall space to sit, lounge and make a day or afternoon of hanging with friends.  With all of Berlins alternative and more edgy space, this is an unusual spot where you can momentarily remember Berlin's old anddefinitely European history.

3. Tempelhof

This is another space that has a bit of a retro feel to it.  Built as an airport in 1923, the original layout of Tempelhof, including tar mats, transport roads and terminal structures still remain.  When the site was shut down in 2008, Berliners protested for the area to be open to the public rather than sold to private investers and they succeeded.  Today Tempelhof is a public park, but there have been no structural changes to the property.  With so much free space - both green and black - the activities that go on here are endless.  Walking from one end to the other (a poor decision on my part as I was trying to meet up with people and did it factor in the massive size of an airport landing strip) I passed people riding bikes, skateboards, wind boards and segways, rolling on skates, jogging, lounging, barbecuing and picnicking.  Kites were flying and everywhere you looked there were large amounts of people, yet you never felt like you were running out of room.  Absolutely a wonderful place to spend a beautiful day.

4. People Watch

Personally, I think coffee shops are the best place to people watch.  There's a continuous flow of people and on top of being entertained there is a constant supply of food and coffee.  There are such eclectic people to be found in Berlin.  Sometimes it's just absolutely necessary to sit back and observe the awesomely individual spirit of Berlin.  You see people's personalities through heir demeanor, clothes and hairstyle.  Middle aged women with colorful (and by that I mean colors of the rainbow) hair and innovative fashion grabbing their coffee with a briefcase in their hand that you later realize is for their job as a lawyer or teacher is a very cool dichotomy we don't have the pleasure of seeing very often in the U.S.

5. Museum Hunt

On top of Museum Isel, mentioned above, almost every street has some kind of museum - whether that's one room or an extensive exhibit it to be determined, but my point is museums are everywhere.  For the classics Museum Isel has the ancient and impressive collections.  Nephertiti's famous bust, for example, is on perminant display at the Neues Museum.  Additinally, there are museums for all aspects of Berlin's history - some bring you through the entirety of Berlin's history since the 13th century while others are specifically highlighting the histories of East and West Berlin before German reunification in 1990.  Moreover, apart from historical and archeological museums there are more contemporary hideaways and art galleries sprinkled all around the city.  The Smithsonian museums in D.C. Have definitely spoiled me with free admission, but it's worth the small bill to experience the museums Berlin has to offer.  But if you don't feel like spending a few bucks, just walking around Berlin is an art galery in itself. 


By glaveym

  1. BIKE. Biking in The Netherlands is as commonplace to Dutch culture as our reliance on cars in the U.S. It is not only the main mode of transportation, it a social phenomenon for university-age students. As a GW student might walk to class, split a cab, or rent a zip-car, with a friend, biking is always better when done with your friends. It has a special novelty here in Maastricht, as the border with Belgium is a brisk ten minutes by bike. The Netherlands is a country with bike paths that equal in length to freeways, and a country with a population of over 16 million, but over 18 million bikes.
  2. VISIT THE REPURPOSED CHURCHES. Dutch culture, throughout its long history, has always placed a particular emphasis on religion. However, in more modern times, the country has increasingly moved more and more towards a society of complete secularism. Not a people to waste, the Dutch, and citizens of Maastricht, have done a wonderful job of repurposing no longer used churches to fit a variety of purposes. Boekhandel Dominican, an over 1000 year-old church in the center of town, now functions as a book-store, with modernist architecture and thousands of titles for any variation of book-enthusiast. Even more impressive is the Kruisherenhotel Maastricht, a design hotel that just happens to find itself in a church dating from the 15th Not only is its architecture regal, it has been known to house the Dutch Royal Family on their many visits to Maastricht.
  3. GO TO SCHOOL. University College Maastricht has been a truly pivotal part of my study abroad experience. A small community of liberal arts students, coming from all over the world to study or study abroad, it truly feels like an oasis in the hustle and bustle of exchange life. The classes are formatted to be twenty students or less, and the range of class offerings offer a truly multi-disciplinary academic experience. Being involved enough was a concern of mine coming into my study abroad experience, but UCM has facilitated my transition nicely, and the countless extra-curricular offerings and nightly events quench my thirst for learning outside the classroom.
  4. STUDY ON THE WALL. UCM is located just along the old Roman city wall of Maastricht, which foundations were laid when Maastricht was established as one of the oldest towns in The Netherlands, in approximately 500 BC. The wall, although dauntingly tall, provides a wide enough ledge to sit on and look over the city, and on especially sunny, clear days, a place to study, listen to music, or enjoy the company of friends.
  5. EAT DELCIOUS DUTCH TREATS. Although The Netherlands may be known for its tulips, water, and cheese, an often-overlooked aspect of Dutch living is the delicious food. As I live in the very south of the country, in a province known as Limburg, my experience comes with a whole host of delicious delicacies unique to Limburg. One of my personal favorites has to be vlaai, a crossover between a pie and a tart, served with a variety of different fresh fruits and fillings. It is always freshly made daily across the city, and if you’re lucky enough, you can catch a smell as you bike by the bakkerij, or bakery.

By Shannon McKeown

1. Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum, located within the beautiful Botanic Gardens, is the perfect afternoon activity that doesn’t cost a dime. Founded in 1821, it is currently Northern Ireland’s oldest museum and features displays in art, local history, treasures from the Spanish Armada, botany, and geology. For anyone unfamiliar with the area, the museum offers a large range of information regarding local history and the history of the unionist & nationalist conflict. The museum also has collection called “Art of the Troubles,” which includes work by artists in response to the Troubles, the time period of the city’s heightened violence that began in the 1960s.

2. Black Taxi Tours

In Belfast, Black Taxi Tours are a main attraction. These tours will take you to different areas of the city, but the most well known tour is of the political murals of the Falls and Shankill. These areas are either unionist/protestant or nationalist/catholic and are completely segregated. The most famous ‘peace line’ in Belfast lies between these two neighborhoods. While many believe that the Troubles are completely over, this wall, taller than the Berlin Wall in most areas, is a reminder of the segregation that still exists. Furthermore, both neighborhoods (as well as sections of the wall) feature an array of political murals, some highlighting their own history and others focusing on international issues.

3. The Giant’s Ring

The Giant’s Ring is a henge monument located just outside of Belfast. It is a man-built circular enclosure that dates back to around 2700BC, predating the Egyptian Pyramids. While the activities that took place inside the mound can only be speculated upon, it is thought that it served as a meeting place or as a memorial to the dead. Just east of the center of the circle is a five stone tomb. Furthermore, a ritual site was excavated in the area adjacent to the site in the early 1990s. These days, the ring is part of a series of paths near the River Lagan and is a beautiful rural site for those who want to escape the urban environment for an afternoon.

4. Friar’s Bush Cemetery

Friar’s Bush is Belfast’s oldest Christian burial ground, with some graves dating back to the early mediaeval period. There is a legend that St. Patrick built a church on the grounds, while it is also said that an order of friars established on the land. This site can be found on a map dating back to as early as the 1500s. Furthermore, throughout the penal laws that discriminated against Catholics practicing their religion in the 1600s, Catholics would often meet in secret for mass at this site. It is also a burial site for many victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-51. Taking a tour of this site is a great way to spend an afternoon and learn more about Belfast’s complex history.

5. St. George’s Market

St. George’s Market emerged as long ago as the 1600s, and the present award-winning market was built between 1890 and 1896. Friday includes a variety market, with products ranging from antiques to fresh produce and coffee. On Saturdays, you can enjoy the ‘city food,’ and the craft and garden market, while Sundays include food, crafts, and antiques. It was voted the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market in 2015 and is a great way to get a taste of Belfast’s food and culture.

By bevvy2212

As I wrap up my semester abroad in Paris, here is a list of the five things that I really enjoyed doing while I was in Paris. Take a look below.

1. Macaroon. Hopefully you have all heard of what a macaroon is. The most famous brand is probably Laduree, which can be found in the United States as well. But my favorite go-to brand is Pierre Hermes. I don't know if you have ever heard of it but it's like, party in your mouth. There is actually a Pierre Hermes very close to Sciences Po (next to Eglise Saint Sulpice), about a ten minute walk. Unlike the traditional flavors from Laduree, Pierre Hermes offer flavors that might sound bizarre but taste delicious at the same time. Also, they alter their flavors in accordance to seasons so I was very bummed when I returned in December to find my favorite flavors gone. For those of you getting to Paris in the fall, please, for the sake of me, try the olive and the Ceylon tea flavor. They are to die for! In december, they also have the fois gras flavor. Unconventional? I think so. Worth the money? Absolutely.

2. Skating. I know that the rink at Waterfront is pretty great, but it's nothing compared to the open-air skate rinks in Paris. Probably starting from mid December, open-air skate rinks will pop up. There's one close to Champs-Elysee, but don't go to that one, it's tiny. I heard there's also one on the Eiffel Tower, but I'm not sure how big that can be either... but how cool would that be though, skating on the Eiffel Tower? My favorite one is probably the one in side the Grande Palais. It's massive and has all sorts of different light shows at night, though it is a little bit pricey (€25). If you're looking for a moderate sized rink at a relatively cheap price, I would recommend the one near Hotel de Ville (The Town Hall). Entrance fee is only 6 euros. The nice thing about French rinks is that they have regulations on how many people are allowed on the rink at a time, so it's never too terribly crowded. The down side? You might have to cue up in the cold wind for a very long time. My advice? Don't go when it's around Christmas time because that's when Paris is flooded with tourists and people who are on break. Go sometime earlier and in the afternoon instead.

3. Fontainebleau. You have probably heard of Versailles, but that's just, way too crowded for my taste. Actually I went to Versailles in December where there were barely any tourists. It was incredible because I never expected Versailles to be empty but I walked in the gardens this time instead of just inside the palace, and it was peaceful and quiet because most tourists would just tour the inside of the palace and call it a day. Fontainebleau is another chateau near Paris and I personally prefer it better to Versailles, simply because I've been to Versailles three times already. It's a little bit harder to get to, in comparison. You'll have to take the Transillien train from Gare de Lyon. If you have a youth card, it's approx 8 euros, other wise it would be 16. After you reach Fontainebleau, you'll have to take a bus to reach the Chateaux. The rooms are just as lovely as the ones in Versailles, if not more lavish. Napolean actually preferred it more to Versailles. We went towards the end of December and there were barely anyone there, which was awesome. "All these lands are mine! mwahaha" The town of Fontainebleau is really cute too, so that's definitely a plus.

4. Canal Saint Matin. I personally prefer the canal saint Martin cruise to the conventional Seine cruise, just because the canal passes through a part of Paris that's usually less touristy. There are usually two cruises per day. The one in the morning departs near Musee D'orsay and goes to Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondisement. And the one in the afternoon does the vice versa. After October I think, the cruise only operates on the weekends. The area in the 19th arrondisement has a lot of quaint bars around the canal, so it's a really nice place to chill when the weather is still nice and there are also a lot of really cool little stores scattered around the neighborhood.

I really enjoyed touring Europe in winter because it's the low season and there are so much less tourists around. So I would wait around a bit when you first get to Paris if you're doing Fall Abroad because the end of august/ the beginning of september is still sort of too touristy for my taste. Lines are long and people are everywhere. Maybe wait until around end of october/ beginning of november to start doing the touristy things. (But that's also the time when Sciences Po has its midterms and exposes, keep that in mind). I stayed for a bit after my semester is over in Paris, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the touristy spots a lot less crowded than I have imagined.

Till next time, Paris!

By Jess Yacovelle

For the majority of my blog posts, I've written about the United Kingdom social culture or the schooling system. This time, I'm going to wax on and on about arguably my favorite part of the UK: the fan culture. Living in the United Kingdom is like living in Hollywood: chances are, someone has filmed something on every major street in London, so if you're a big nerd like me, you can experience some major geek-out moments no matter where you go in the UK. Here are my personal top give fandom tidbits about the London and the United Kingdom.

1) Soccer, aka football. I'm not one of those people who insist sports aren't fandoms; anyone willing to spend hundreds of dollars a year on stadium tickets belongs in a fandom, and the UK is therefore a great place to visit. In London, there are (at least) four different football teams and games are shown at almost every pub. You can essentially watch a soccer game anytime you want. Many stadiums also offer tours, and all stadiums have a gift shop! If you're a soccer fan, the UK is the place to feed your addiction.

2) Olympics. In the same vein as soccer, some people are massive fans of the Olympics. The 2012 Olympics were held in Stratford, just outside of London, and you can go tour the area! Some of the stadium is closed for renovations until 2016, but the rest is currently open to the public and visitable. Furthermore, you can see some of the medals and the Olympic torch, which is kept in London's City Hall, by Tower Bridge on the Southbank.

3) Doctor Who. It's the show all generations of people love. Doctor Who recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. In Cardiff, Wales a Doctor Who Museum and set tour has been assembled for fans of the long-standing series to peruse. Fans of the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood should also go see the Roald Dahl Plass, where the Torchwood hub is marked and Ianto's Door, a memorial to a fictional character. You can also check out sites that appeared in the show, such as Cardiff Castle, Canary Wharf, and Trafalgar Square. Want more Doctor Who goodness? Check out fan forums for tips.

4) Literary love. If you're a fan of any English literature - Shakespeare, Victorian, Irish - there are tons of places you can visit in London. A replica of Shakespeare's Globe theatre stands on the edge of the Thames. The Fitzroy Tavern in Holburn offers literary pub crawls. Plaques all over London and Dublin detail the places favorited by writers and poets, or where they used to live and write. A certain cafe in Edinburgh boasts being the writing home of JK Rowling. For Victorian writers like Dickens, you can still see the same streets and landmarks that are mentioned in their stories! Do some research and check out the best sites!

5) Harry Potter! Remember how I mentioned JK Rowling earlier? The after effects of her works are visible all over London and the UK! In addition to visiting the famous Rowling cafe, you can head over to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station. Then, visit Leavesdon Studios (off of the Watford Junction train stop outside of London), where they filmed the movies. You can take guided walking tours of places either mentioned in the series or used in filming, including Borough Market in London and the Millennium Bridge. Get your wizarding nerd on with some Harry Potter love!

These are just my nerdy Brit-joys; research yours and enjoy the experience!

By Jess Yacovelle

I've been living in London now for nearly seven weeks, and by this point I've experienced numerous things to do each and every day. I've compiled my five favorites into the below list; check them out!

1) Find "a place." To me, the number one thing that's helping me get to know and experience London is a restaurant a few friends and I have found: Belushi's. We hang out there a couple nights a week and we interact with other regulars. By relaxing and chatting with locals in a familiar setting, it's easy to learn more about London life.

2) Trafalgar Square. There's always something going on in Trafalgar Square. Whether it's a street dance performance, a food fair, or a special exhibit, Trafalgar Square is a beautiful place to see. The architecture of the statues is also gorgeous and well worth a look.

3) See a theatre show. Comedians and theatre shows are huge in London. There are upwards of twenty shows occurring on any given night. The downside to this cool cultural tidbit is that it's a pretty expensive habit; tickets range in £30-£100! But it's worth it to try and see a show or two a month because London theatre is amazing. As of now, I've seen Shakespeare in LoveEvita, and The Lion King, and I've also seen comedian Jon Richardson live. My wallet is a little annoyed, but they were incredible shows and well worth it.

4) Try every café in sight. I'll be honest, I'm a sucker for coffee. I'm infamous in my family for visiting Stonehenge and taking pictures with a cup of coffee in my hand. So one of my favorite ways to pass the time in London is to experiment and explore various cafés. If I happen to be with a friend, I'll sometimes check out hotel cafés; the coffee is usually more expensive, but it's always delicious!

5) Drink coffee and sit along the Thames. Have I mentioned that I'm a sucker for coffee? Even though the temperature has dropped significantly since I've arrived, the Thames is still a beautiful place to visit, especially if you're on the South Bank. This side of the Thames faces St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, and Big Ben. My favorite spot? About a five minute walk up from the famous Globe theatre. It's far enough away from the tourist trap to be peaceful, yet still close to the picturesque view.

6) Camden Market. Camden Market is perhaps the greatest place to visit in all of London; they set up stalls and stalls of fashion, gifts, and ethnic food for you to purchase. Some of the best meals I've consumed in London were from Camden Market; definitely arrange for a visit if you can.

By mcbitter

Over the past three weeks, I can honestly say that I've never been bored in Paris! There's an abundance of things to do here - in fact, I already know that this semester is going to be really short. (As I'm writing this, it's already September 21st!) I just hope that I'll have enough time to feel like I've made the city my own. That said, here are a few things I like to do with my free time in the City of Lights.

1. Grocery shopping. As mundane as it may sound, shopping for food is actually really fun here! It's interesting to see what kind of products they have in France that are different than the ones at home. (Admittedly, I did eat Oreos today... whoops.) I've shopped at a few different places, including Monoprix (kind of like Target - they have everything!), Franprix (smaller selection but tons of locations), and little produce-only stores. Monoprix is perfect for when you're doing a lot of shopping but you don't know exactly what you need. In particular, I found really good gnocchi and pizza there (I'm buying Italian food in Paris, go figure). Franprix is where I go when I realize I didn't buy something I needed, as it's only a block from my apartment. As for the produce stores, they're all tiny! And yes, the one on my block sells only fruit and veggies. I make sure to buy my bananas and salad ingredients from there because they seem to have a better selection than the larger stores.

2. Bus rides. Overall, Paris has a great public transportation system. Buses, trams, metro, trains, they've got it all. If I'm not in a hurry, I always try to take the bus because it lets you see and appreciate the city. For example, the other day, some friends and I went to the Champs-Elysées after class. The bus ride home showed us many Parisian landmarks as well as low-key places I'd like to check out. Unfortunately, it's impossible to take the bus to class in the mornings because traffic is usually too unpredictable to always make it on time.

3. Museums. There's too many to count! This weekend, my program offered an optional day trip to Giverny, France, where we visited Claude Monet's House and Gardens as well as an Impressionist Museum nearby. On Monday of last week, I stopped by the Louvre for a few hours, the highlight of which was seeing Napoleon's private apartments. (No, I did not brave the crowds to check out the Mona Lisa. Not this time, at least.) Other museums that are on my list are the Musée Rodin (dedicated to the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin) and the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (the biggest science museum in Europe).

4. Talking with locals. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with all of the GW students on my program, but I'm happy to say that I've made French friends, too! Last week, I went to an event called "Franglish," and I can't wait to go to another one. Held Sunday through Wednesday nights at bars around the city, each night accepts 25 English speakers and 25 French speakers, and is aimed at improving your foreign language skills. It's set up like speed-dating (it's not for dating, but that's the best way to describe it!), and with each person, you spend seven minutes speaking in each language. Basically, it's an awesome way to meet locals and exchange a little bit about your lives.